Outspoken magistrate traps prolific burglars

A FORMER magistrate told yesterday how he foiled a gang of burglars after one of them let him use his mobile telephone to call the police.

Dr Richard Soper, who served as a magistrate in Bury St Edmunds for 26 years, spoke of the bizarre incident as the three prolific thieves were jailed for a total of nine-and-a-half years.

Dr Soper, 66, of Great Saxham, raised the alarm after he noticed two men dressed in yellow jackets outside his neighbour’s house one night in February while they were away on holiday.

A GP at Bury’s Victoria Surgery for the past 35 years until he retired in 2009, Dr Soper saw one of the men walking through his neighbour’s kitchen when he went to investigate and decided to call the police.

“I quickly walked out to the road and someone was passing in a car,” he said. “I asked to borrow his mobile phone to call police because there was a burglary going on.”

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The man dialled 999 and handed Dr Soper the phone, who told police he could see the men looking out of his neighbour’s bedroom window.

The man in the car later became agitated and asked for his phone back as he was late for an appointment so Dr Soper directed officers and a police helicopter to where the men had fled into Ickworth Park.

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Police later tracked one of the men down to a river in the park, while the second man was arrested at a home in Chevington a short time later, having knocked on a door asking for the resident to call him a taxi.

It later emerged the man driving the car who had loaned Dr Soper his phone was the men’s accomplice and getaway driver.

“They traced the 999 call and he was the getaway man,” Dr Soper said. “He dialled 999 for me.”

The three men were sentenced for a total of 31 burglaries at Norwich Crown Court yesterday, having targeted a number of homes in rural locations in Norfolk and Suffolk including Wickhambrook, Great Saxham, Kedington and Eye.

John Storey, 29, of Ely Street, off Heigham Street in Norwich, pleaded guilty to 25 burglaries and seven more were taken into consideration.

Matthew Curtis, 26, of Branford Road, in Sprowston, Norwich, pleaded guilty to 15 offences.

Richard Woods, 51, of Bullard Road, Mile Cross in Norwich, pleaded guilty to 21 offences.

William Carter, prosecuting, said that the three men sometimes worked in pairs and sometimes as a team to break into rural homes and steal cash and jewellery.

The court heard that in total they broke into 31 houses between June last year and February and stole items worth at least �50,000.

Judge Alasdair Darroch sentenced Storey to three and a half years, which will run consecutively with a four-year sentence he is currently serving for robbery, while Woods and Curtis were each imprisoned for three years.

Speaking after the sentencing, Dr Soper, who stepped down from the bench in 2008 in protest at soft punishments and short sentences, questioned whether the men’s imprisonment was long enough.

“I don’t think I did anything that any other citizen wouldn’t have done,” he said.

“Anybody who has previously had their house burgled would be very pleased these men will be behind bars for a while but you have to ask yourself is such a sentence a significant deterrent?”

Jane Hertzog, St Edmundsbury safer neighbourhood team inspector, praised Dr Soper’s quick-thinking actions.

“This is a great example of the community watching out for one another and being vigilant,” she said.

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